If you’ve published an article in an Elsevier journal, you might have missed an interesting aspect of the contract you signed with them to get published. It goes something like this:
I grant Elsevier the exclusive right to select and reproduce any portions they choose from my research article to market drugs, medical devices, or any other commercial product, regardless of whether I approve of the product or the marketing.
What, you don’t remember agreeing to that? Actually, the words above are mine. But while it isn’t explicitly stated in author agreements, Elsevier authors usually grant that right implicitly. Elsevier’s typical author agreement requires you to sign over your entire copyright to them. Why ask for the whole copyright, instead of just, say, first serial rights, and whatever else suffices for them to include the article in their journal and article databases? Elsevier explains:
Elsevier wants to ensure that it has the exclusive distribution rights for all media. Copyright transfer eliminates any ambiguity or uncertainty about Elsevier’s ability to distribute, sub-license and protect the article from unauthorized copying or alteration.
That “unauthorized” would be “unauthorized by them”. Not “unauthorized by you”. Once you sign, you’ve given up the right to authorize copying or alteration, or any other rights in the copyright, except for rights they offer back to you. For instance, you can’t “sub-license” your article for anything Elsevier deems “commercial purposes”. But they can, and do.
[O]ne of the publication’s “honorary editors” admitted to the Scientist that it included marketing material, but that “[i]t also had papers that were excerpted from other peer-reviewed journals. I don’t think it’s fair to say it was totally a marketing journal.” But that was what Merck paid Elsevier for, and the excerpts from real Elsevier-acquired research articles helped the publication as a whole look like disinterested scholarship instead of advertising. ...
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.